Paul Ricoeur

Jean Paul Gustave Ricoeur (1913–2005) was a French intellectual and philosopher, specializing in hermeneutics, theology, biblical exegesis, psychoanalysis and aesthetics, as well as history, legal studies, politics and literary criticism.

He was born on February 27, 1913, in Valence, near Lyons, France, into a religious Protestant family. Following the death of his mother when he was an infant, and his father's death in the Battle of the Marne in 1915 during World War I, Ricoeur was cared for by his grandparents and an aunt in Rennes.

Ricoeur's entry into the world of academia began with his study of philosophy at the lycée in Rennes and later at the University of Rennes, where he received his bachelor's degree, and the Sorbonne. He became a professor at the lycée in Colmar in the city of Alsace. In 1939, he was drafted into the French army, was captured soon after by the Germans and spent the remainder of the war in a German prisoner of war camp. Also in the camp were several other French intellectuals whom he befriended and with whom he debated philosophical subjects. He apparently helped create a camp university that was recognized by the Vichy government.

Following the war, Ricoeur completed his doctorate and became a lecturer in the history of philosophy at the University of Strasbourg. In 1956, he moved to the Sorbonne as chairman of general philosophy. In 1967, he became dean of a new experimental university at Nanterre, but he resigned in 1969 following student protests during the uprisings of May 1968 when he was assaulted and called an "old clown" and a tool of the French government. He subsequently taught at Louvain in Belgium for two years, then moved to Yale University and finally to the Divinity School of the University of Chicago, where he remained until 1991.

Ricoeur's philosophy is widespread and is developed throughout his many published works. It is difficult for the layperson to comprehend, given that it interacts with and builds upon the philosophies of many other scholars and covers many varied schools. In essence, however, it explores the meaning of life, especially the two fundamental questions: "Who am I?" and "How should I live?" Rocoeur looks at issues such as misuse of free will; existence of evil; fragility of the human condition; signs and symbols that make up human culture, time, history, identity, ethics, politics and the power of language. As his philosophical investigations focused on human life, Ricoeur's philosophy has been termed "philosophical anthropology." While Ricoeur was a Christian philosopher, his writings are not predicated on theological concepts and are studied by both Christians and nonChristians.

Aspects of his philosophical explorations include looking in great detail at the nature of selfhood, encompassing the involuntary constraints that humans are subject to, as well as the notion of individuals as agents of their own actions. Analyzing the fundamental capabilities and vulnerabilities displayed by human beings, Ricoeur argued that, despite the notion of humans exercising free will, no one is fully master over himself or herself, and familiarization with one's own identity and abilities only comes through interactions with the world at large and with others. Ricoeur also assessed the nature of time -- cosmological time, which is a linear succession, where individuals experience the passing minutes, hours and days; and phenomenological time, which is time in terms of the past, present and future. Ricoeur's "human time" integrates the two. In his discussion of ethics, Ricoeur says that self-esteem is the ethical aim of human life, which means attesting to oneself as having lived a good life according to intersubjective criteria.

Among Ricoeur's 20 works, his most popular include: The Rule of Metaphor, From Text to Action, Oneself as Another, Time and Narrative, Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences, Conflict of Interpretations, The Symbolism of Evil, Freud and Philosophy and Freedom and Nature: The Voluntary and the Involuntary.

Ricœur died from natural causes on May 20, 2005, in Chatenay Malabry, France. French Prime Minister Jean Pierre Raffarin said that "the humanist European tradition is in mourning for one of its most talented exponents."

Paul Ricoeur: Selected full-text books and articles

Fallible Man By Paul Ricoeur; Charles A. Kelbley Fordham University Press, 1986 (Revised edition)
A primary source is a work that is being studied, or that provides first-hand or direct evidence on a topic. Common types of primary sources include works of literature, historical documents, original philosophical writings, and religious texts.
Main Trends in Philosophy By Paul Ricoeur Holmes & Meier, 1979
The Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur By Lewis Edwin Hahn Open Court, 1995
The Hermeneutic Tradition: From Ast to Ricoeur By Gayle L. Ormiston; Alan D. Schrift State University of New York Press, 1990
Postmodern Apologetics? Arguments for God in Contemporary Philosophy By Christina M. Gschwandtner Fordham University Press, 2013
Librarian's tip: Chap. 4 "Paul Ricoeur: A God of Poetry and Superabundance"
Twentieth-Century Continental Philosophy By Richard Kearney Routledge, 1994
Librarian's tip: Chap. 9 "Hermeneutics: Gadamer and Ricoeur"
Poetics of Imagining: Modern to Post-Modern By Richard Kearney Fordham University Press, 1998
Librarian's tip: Chap. 6 "The Hermeneutical Imagination (Ricoeur)"
The Matter of Culture: Aesthetic Experience and Corporeal Being By Hoogland, Renee C Mosaic (Winnipeg), Vol. 36, No. 3, September 2003
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Ethics, Exegesis, and Philosophy: Interpretation after Levinas By Richard A. Cohen Cambridge University Press, 2001
Librarian's tip: Chap. 9 "Ricoeur and the Lure of Self-Esteem"
The Context of Self: A Phenomenological Inquiry Using Medicine as a Clue By Richard M. Zaner Ohio University Press, 1981
Librarian's tip: Chap. 6 "Ricoeur and the Adventure of Interpretation"
Parables for Our Time: Rereading New Testament Scholarship after the Holocaust By Tania Oldenhage Oxford University Press, 2002
Librarian's tip: Chap. 10 "Paul Ricoeur's 'Biblical Hermeneutics'"
Paul Ricoeur's 'Oneself as Another' and Practical Theology By Van den Hengel, John Theological Studies, Vol. 55, No. 3, September 1994
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Theological Foundations: Intentionality and Psyche By Robert M. Doran Marquette University Press, vol.1, 1995
Librarian's tip: Chap. 1 "Paul Ricoeur: Toward the Restoration of Meaning"
Looking for a topic idea? Use Questia's Topic Generator
Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.